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Wikipedia’s Bias Meets a Free-Speech Alternative

The famously free encyclopedia’s pages on abortion, communism, and historical figures reveal a left-leaning bias

Last December, Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger announced that he would be launching a free speech alternative to Wikipedia, a website that Sanger believes has lost its credibility as a neutral source of information.

Sanger’s Encyclosphere is meant to be “an open encyclopedia network” (Sanger compares it to “the blogosphere”) with the goal of “build(ing) a network that … all of humanity owns and no one exclusively controls.” 

One of Wikipedia’s declared “fundamental principle(s)” is NPOV – neutral point of view. Wikipedia defines NPOV as “representing fairly, proportionately, and, as far as possible, without editorial bias, all the significant views that have been published by reliable sources on a topic.” 

“This policy is non-negotiable,” the website states.

But according to Sanger, “Wikipedia’s ‘NPOV’ is dead.” 

In an op-ed published to his own website last May, Sanger spotlighted Wikipedia’s failings in upholding NPOV. Wikipedia’s editors regularly narrate political and religious issues “from a liberal-left point of view,” he argued, pointing to its pages covering cultural issues like abortion and drug legalization, and historical figures like Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Jesus Christ. 

…their articles on those (culture war) topics put Wikipedia very decidedly on one side of that war. You should not be able to say that about an encyclopedia that claims to be neutral.

Larry Sanger, “Wikipedia is Badly Biased” at larrysanger.org

Wikipedia didn’t start out that way when it was launched in 2001, Sanger told Just the News. A decade ago, he said, “liberals made, or leftists made, their march through the institutions” and “Wikipedia became one of those influential institutions … and (the left) basically took it over.” 

Fox News’s Maxim Lott provided an example of this bias recently, pointing to the obvious imbalance in Wikipedia’s pages on Socialism, Communism, and China.

The two main pages for “Socialism” and “Communism” span a massive 28,000 words, and yet they contain no discussion of the genocides committed by socialist and communist regimes, in which tens of millions of people were murdered and starved.

Maxim Lott, “Inside Wikipedia’s leftist bias: socialism pages whitewashed, communist atrocities buried” on FoxNews.com (February 18, 2020)

In the article, George Mason University economics professor Bryan Caplan told Lott:

The omission of large-scale mass murder, slave labor, and man-made famines is negligent and deeply misleading.

Bryan Caplan, as quoted in “Inside Wikipedia’s leftist bias: socialism pages whitewashed, communist atrocities buried” on FoxNews.com (February 18, 2020)

In 2014, Harvard faculty members Shane Greenstein and Feng Zhu published research showing that Wikipedia articles are both more politically biased than those of Encyclopaedia Britannica and more slanted to the left. 

The Critic argues that bias can be seen not only in Wikipedia’s entries but in its very choice of sources.

Most relevant to assessing bias is the question of which sources have been “deprecated,” which means a source that has been formally prohibited from being used in all but a handful of cases.

Wikipedia’s list of deprecated sources currently contains 16 right-leaning sources: Breitbart, the Daily Caller, the Daily Mail, the Daily Star, the Epoch TimesFrontPage Magazine, the Gateway PunditInfowarsLifeSiteNewsNews of the WorldOne America News Network, the SunTaki’s MagazineVDareWorldNetDaily, and Zero Hedge – and just one left-leaning source, Occupy Democrats.

Shuichi Tezuka and Linda A. Ashtear, “The left-wing bias of Wikipedia” at The Critic

According to Critic writers Tezuka and Ashtear, the deprecation of these right-wing media sources might be a valid decision except for the fact that Wikipedia does not deprecate similar left-wing media sources:

According to Ad Fontes Media‘s widely-used media bias chart (which is commonly cited in discussions on the reliable sources noticeboard), CounterPunch, AlterNet, and the Daily Kos are all less reliable than the Daily Mail. This is significant because the Daily Mail, a deprecated right-leaning source, is often used as a benchmark for judging whether other right-leaning sources should be deprecated. All three of these left-wing sources are widely used at Wikipedia. An external links search shows around 2,580 Wikipedia pages linking to CounterPunch, around 2,400 linking to the Daily Kos, and around 1,640 linking to AlterNet.

Shuichi Tezuka and Linda A. Ashtear, “The left-wing bias of Wikipedia” at The Critic

Of course, none of this is surprising to proponents of intelligent design, who have been targets of Wikipedia’s bias through the years.

Wikipedia’s “Intelligent Design” page describes ID — the theory that nature is a product of intelligence, not chance — as “a pseudoscientific argument for the existence of God” and “a form of creationism that lacks empirical support and offers no testable or tenable hypotheses, and is therefore not science.”

And its “Intelligent design movement” page describes the ID movement as “a Neo-creationist religious campaign for broad social, academic and political change to promote and support the pseudoscientific idea of intelligent design.”

On its “Neutral point of view” page, Wikipedia addresses how they deal with “fringe theories and pseudoscience”:

Pseudoscientific theories are presented by proponents as science, but characteristically fail to adhere to scientific standards and methods. Conversely, by its very nature, scientific consensus is the majority viewpoint of scientists towards a topic. Thus, when talking about pseudoscientific topics, we should not describe these two opposing viewpoints as being equal to each other.

“Wikipedia: Neutral point of view” on Wikipedia

A reader would not know from Wikipedia’s pages on ID that strictly Darwinian evolution has been under fire for a number of years from within evolutionary biology. ID is one strand in a complex picture.

How does this sort of thing affect the Wikipedia user? In 2017, the page of distinguished paleontologist Günter Bechly was erased from Wikipedia not long after he voiced his support for intelligent design. In similar fashion, distinguished engineer Walter Bradley‘s Wikipedia page was significantly shortened, editing out his accomplishments to narrowly focus on his involvement with intelligent design. Loss of information affects people who never knew it existed.

“It’s become centralized and controlling,” says Sanger in his video announcing the Encyclosphere, “just like Facebook and Twitter. They have all become openly hostile to views unapproved by the establishment. Let’s fix this — not with a better encyclopedia, but an open encyclopedic network…”

In an age of censorship concerns growing on a global scale, the efforts of people like Sanger are applauded by those who still believe in the open marketplace of ideas, where debate is not stifled by political or business elites.

Caitlin Bassett

Caitlin Bassett was a Policy Analyst and Communications Liaison for the Center for Science & Culture and the Center on Wealth & Poverty. Her main areas of focus are in Big Tech and its impact on human freedom, as well as homelessness and mental illness. In her free time, she enjoys delving into Lewis and Tolkien, cosmology, and running around historical sites on the East Coast. She graduated from Liberty University in 2017 with her Bachelor’s in Politics and Policy.

Wikipedia’s Bias Meets a Free-Speech Alternative